Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2009

Section One, Waitui Road, Upper Takaka

page 7

Section One, Waitui Road, Upper Takaka

This is a story about the young pioneer Takaka Valley "Reference is made in Eric Sparrow's 1891 diary that, in the middle of winter, on 7 July 1891, he visited "Our land" at Dry Creek, Upper Takaka".settlers, Eric Sparrow and Frederick Sparrow, and the section of Upper Takaka bush land they eventually purchased. Reference is made in Eric Sparrow's 1891 diary that, in the middle of winter, on July 7, 1891, he visited "Our land" at Dry Creek, Upper Takaka with Frederick. They stayed the night at the farm of George Hailes senior, the father of Eric's wife Lucy, on the Waitui Road. Next day they "went over the land at the Dry Creek." That was the start of Sparrows farming at Dry Creek, near Hailes Knob. They would have walked through a forest of large totara, rimu and beech trees, noting that it was a sign of good soil. "Our land" was Section 1, Block XIX, Takaka Survey District. This block forms a steep northwest face that rises from Waitui Stream to the top of the 1279m Hailes Knob, a distinctive sharp peak on the Arthur Range, at the head of the Takaka Valley. Some time later, Eric bought Frederick's half share.
The area would have not long been surveyed, as some of the high land in Takaka was surveyed in 1877 and this area was not on that map. The surveyor would have walked up Dry Creek, looking for permanent water, making sure water was on each section. This foresight has been appreciated by following generations. Reginald Sparrow, son of Frederick Sparrow, told his father he was able to take one step across Dry Creek when he first saw it but, after the bush was felled, the creek widened. The early track page 8
Section 1 - Waitui Road, Upper Takaka23 December 2008Sourced from Land Information New Zealand data. Crown copyright reserved.The information on this map is prepared for indicative use only and is not intended for definitive legal, location or formal reference purposes.

Section 1 - Waitui Road, Upper Takaka
23 December 2008
Sourced from Land Information New Zealand data. Crown copyright reserved.
The information on this map is prepared for indicative use only and is not intended for definitive legal, location or formal reference purposes.

page 9access to Section 1 was up the western side of Dry Creek. Joseph Beardmore already had Section 2, opposite Hailes Knob, when Eric and Frederick arrived.

The two men had separate farms 14km away to the north at Sunnyside, West Takaka. They had taken possession of these farms from their father, George James Sparrow, upon his death in 1884. George and Harriet Sparrow and their three sons, Eric, Arthur and Frederick, had emigrated from London to Nelson on the John Masterman, arriving at Nelson in February 1857.1 George, a veterinary surgeon, and his family moved to Massacre Bay and built a whare early in 1857. George was appointed government sheep inspector, testing sheep for scab on arrival at Nelson's port. His private veterinary practice covered the Waimeas and Massacre Bay. They were living in Massacre Bay by June 1857, when Eric Sparrow, aged 13 years, wrote a letter home to his cousin in England describing the valley of Takaka and stating that they had "nearly finished their house".2

They built the whare first, and the two oldest sons remained there while the parents returned to Richmond for George's work and Frederick's education at Richmond Boys School. In 1860 G.J. Sparrow was examining pupils at Richmond schools with Mr Barnicoat. They returned to the Bay permanently in 1860 and built the first house, which was more substantial than the whare. Harriet and George lived in this house, which was situated opposite Fairleigh, until their deaths; George on December 20, 1884 aged 70 years and Harriet on February 10, 1890 aged 69 years. Harriet stayed on there following George's death, with an acre of garden, until her death. The house was then put on skids and dragged across the track, which is now the main highway, to form part of Fairleigh.

George Sparrow was a member of the Nelson Provincial Council and the Anglican Synod and was constantly travelling back and forth to Nelson, sometimes riding over the Takaka Hill track, or going by boat from Waitapu. Despite his responsibilities, and with the help of his three sons, George cleared the land and built up a productive sheep farm, supplemented with hops, fruit, dairy products and export timber. Arthur, sadly, was killed when a dray upturned while he was working a bullock team, on November 8, 1869 at the age of 24.3

They purchased land at Sunnyside on August 20, 1857, buying 300 acres (125 ha) at 10/- ($1) an acre. Clearly they were occupying land before that, maybe in anticipation of a crown grant. Two more grants were advertised as ready for issue to G.J.Sparrow, on July 10, 1858 and March 25, 1863.4 This was later extended to 643 acres (268 ha) and was eventually divided between Eric and Frederick. Eric married Lucy Hailes on September 2, 1868 and they had three boys and five girls. After his marriage he built their home, Hillcrest, of totara and it is still in use today.

page 10
Eric Sparrow. February 1878.The Nelson Provincial Museum,WE Brown Collection, 13668/2.

Eric Sparrow. February 1878.
The Nelson Provincial Museum,
WE Brown Collection, 13668/2.

Lucy, who was born in England in 1850, arrived in Upper Takaka about 1862 with her father, George Hailes senior, and two brothers. George had assisted the surveyor Henry Lewis to do the first survey of the flats of Upper Takaka and probably took two crown land grants, both flat land, but not adjoining each other. He may have paid for these blocks by opening up Waitui Road, which involved clearing the entire bush, including stumps, from the roadway. Payment for opening up roads was made in land in other parts of Upper Takaka. No gravel would have been laid on the roads. Lucy's mother had died in 1861, before the family left England, so Lucy had to do the home making until she married Eric. Lucy died in 1935.

Frederick built a home near Hillcrest in 1881 called Fairleigh, also built of heart totara, and which is also still in use today. Frederick married Charlotte (Lottie) Barnett on April 5, 1883 and they moved into the brand new home. They lived there until their deaths, Frederick on August 21, 1937 aged 87 and Charlotte on September 9, 1941 aged 78. At least three of Charlotte's brothers worked at times for Eric and Frederick. They were Frank, Alfred and Charles Barnett. Frederick and Charlotte Sparrow had six sons.

Hops were grown in the Takaka Valley, including the Upper Takaka area and Eric and Frederick were growing them by 1878, and still in 18855, but there is no mention of them in 18916. The price of hops had dropped, proving to be page 11
Historic Fairleigh house beside the Takaka Highway.Ken Wright photo.

Historic Fairleigh house beside the Takaka Highway.
Ken Wright photo.

uneconomic in the Takaka Valley. Eric had received a cheque for over £1,000 ($2000) in 1891 from Baigents, the sawmillers, who were sending timber down to the Waitapu wharf, by tram/train from East Takaka. Frederick may have also received similar income during this time.

In 1949 when we were haymaking for the Wintons, our neighbours, Arthur Moulder, a farmer and veteran of World War I, was also helping. He told me that recently he had been sawing and splitting totara logs for fence posts on the Fairleigh farm, taking them away free of charge, as Harold Sparrow was burning them to clear the land. Hillcrest and Fairleigh farms must have originally been covered with hundreds of totara trees. What was it that drew the Sparrow page 12brothers' attention to Section 1 at Dry Creek, Upper Takaka? Why did they pick it when other nearby section/blocks were available? Maybe it was because Section 1 faced the sun all day, which meant more grass and shorter winters. It was a two to three hour horse ride from their farms at Sunnyside, 14 km away. Stephen, one of Eric's sons, wrote in a letter to a friend in England about the abundance of sunshine at Sunnyside, a view probably given to him by his father, who was born in bleak England. Was it the Sparrows, the first settlers there, who came up with the name Sunnyside? The Samuel Johnson family, who were early settlers at Upper Takaka, named their farm Sunnybank. A school named Sunnyside was established over the main road from Eric and Lucy's residence in 1887 and their daughter, 18 year-old Rhoda, was the first teacher. Unfortunately the name Sunnyside has disappeared from use, except by a few local historians.

Section 1 turned out to be one of New Zealand's unusual geological areas, as well as being a unique grazing block. The sheep do well on it and produce bright, deep-crimped, lustrous wool because of the soil, which has been formed from the weathering of graphitic Arthur Marble. Dry Creek is the only place in New Zealand, to my knowledge, where graphitic Arthur Marble has been identified. The name comes from the Arthur range, which includes Section 1. Some 460 million years ago, towards the end of the Ordovician Period, a set of circumstances created an environment which made nature gather the debris, elements and fossils, which began the process of forming the Arthur Marble. It is only recently we have discovered why Section 1 is different. Eric's father-in-law, George Hailes senior, also had 17 hectares of this soil.

The bush on Section 1 was felled in stages and on July 8, 1902, eleven years to the day since Eric and Frederick first walked on Section 1, Rosalind (Wannie) Sparrow, Eric's daughter, travelled to Section 1, probably bringing provisions from Sunnyside. The first sheep was killed about that same time, according to notes written on the rafters of a hut on the section. The hut still stands and has the original corrugated iron roof and sides. The sides have never been painted, and even after 107 years there is no rust, indicating the alkaline environment of the Arthur Marble.

The shearing shed was built about the same time as the hut, or soon after, and it was a professional job complete with roller doors. A sheep dip with a drainage pen was also built, and the drainage pen's concrete floor is still there. A pipe was driven into a spring thirty metres from the hut to supply water to the dip. One hundred years later, the same pipe is still used to supply a trough across the valley. The materials for these buildings were probably sledged in; Charlie Fowler next door operated a sledge just after 1903. The essential equipment for hill country farming, new boots, were purchased on June 1, 1904.

page 13

There were sheep on Section 1 by 1902, as it is written on the wall of the hut, so there would have been wool to sell. In the beginning it was probably fadged up and taken out by sledge or pack-horse to a wagon further down the road. Then it was perhaps put onto the Takaka Tramway at East Takaka and taken to the Waitapu wharf for shipment to Wellington. Wool was selling for two and half to three pence a pound and the freight charge on the tramway was three pence per bale. A special loading terminus was provided at the East Takaka station for goods from south of there. The Takaka tramway closed in 1905.

By 1919, 312 lambs were being tailed, and by July 1922 there were 656 sheep, with emphasis probably being placed on the wool clip and increasing sheep numbers. Writing on the hut walls states that the old ewes were sold to the Nelson Freezing Works, of which Eric was probably a shareholder. The ewes and, probably, the wethers would have been driven to the Stoke works by a drover, a journey of seven to ten days.

One day, about 1920, the bush was being felled in the top half of Konini Gully, named for the fruit of the fuchsia tree. This area, the last to be felled at the southern end of Section 1, is very steep. The three bush fellers, including Frederick Sparrow's youngest son Raymond, knocked off for the day because of persistent heavy rain. They had a tent camp alongside the permanent water in the gully, what a treasure that is at that height. One man was starting the campfire for a cup of tea and a meal when he heard a noise. He looked up and saw a slip coming down the hill, heading straight for the tent. He yelled to the two men inside the tent, who got out, but the tent was completely buried with their gear inside. They had been changing their wet clothes and neither had their trousers on. The trio had no food, two with no trousers, no shelter, no lantern, and heavy rain was falling. With darkness approaching they headed down hill to the hut, but both Dry and Konini Gully Creeks were in high flood and could not be crossed. They spent the night under a log, cold and hungry, until daylight, when the creeks were crossable.

The journey from Sunnyside to Section 1 became quicker with the arrival of the car. My father, Arthur Harwood, lived at the Upper Takaka Accommodation House as a schoolboy from 1912 to 1920. He could remember seeing Eric Sparrow's son, Stephen, who was managing Section 1 at the time, driving past in his car. That was before Lindsay's Bridge on SH60 was built, and Waitui Road crossed Dry Creek opposite and just above the present homestead at 187 Waitui Road. The road continued up the west bank of Dry Creek to Section 1, and it would have been a rough and at times narrow drive. It was a challenging and exciting trip, especially in the gorge underneath where the Dry Creek bridge is today. Stephen Sparrow died in 1921, aged 41 years.

page 14

Reginald Sparrow, Frederick's son, who was born January 5, 1884, managed Section 1 at some time in the 1920s and 1930s. Reg had Section 6, Block XV next door, having arrived there as a 16 year-old about 1900. He had built a hut near water, 200 metres north of Eric's hut, but it burnt down a few years later. Reg built another hut near water about 1913 and this is still standing today at 265 Waitui Road. In 1926 he built a house in front of the hut. Baigents felled the last of the bush on Section 6 about 1930. The logs were pulled down hill and the log track can still be seen. A high tensile fence was then erected at the top end, between Section 6 and Section 1, which also happens to be the boundary between Blocks XV and XIX. It was the only high tensile wire fence that I know of in Upper Takaka at that time, and it was not until fifty years later that these became the norm.

A netting and standard round and twisted type fence was erected right up the western side of Section 1, alongside Dry Creek, about May 1934. This enabled farmers with blocks further on to drive stock through without getting them mixed up with stock on Section 1. The job was probably done by the Pubic Works Department during the depression, on behalf of the Takaka County Council. The tracks, fences and bridges were done at that time using similar materials and workmanship, going down towards the Waitui Forks.

Eric Sparrow died on March 16, 1937, aged 93 years. It was the end of an era; the last of the first settlers in the Sunnyside to Upper Takaka area. Bruce Campbell, a grandson of Eric and Lucy, took over as manager of Hillcrest and Section 1, and the Public Trust Office ran the farm until about 1950. Dad and I attended the clearing sale at Hillcrest, Sunnyside. There was tremendous interest in the heart totara timber which had been stored in the shearing and store shed. The shed is still standing today, which itself is a credit to Eric and Lucy's foresight. The totara timber sold way above market rates, as people were buying history.

Section 1 and Hillcrest were auctioned in Nelson on instructions from the Public Trust Office. Dad had for many years seen wethers being driven past his place on foot to Hillcrest to be shorn. They had not been crutched and had been easy care managed during the year. Only wethers were run on Section 1 for the final 10 to 15 years. Dad was amazed at the size, condition and bulky fleeces of the easy cared sheep. He had been farming the shady Takaka hill land and poor gravel flats and had always said he would buy Section 1 if it ever came on the market.

He went to the auction and was the highest bidder at £2,700 ($5,400). Mr A.H (Brownie) Baigent, the local Nelson Freezing Works drafter, didn't know about the secret of the soil and said to him after the auction "You paid too much for that block". Dad thought he had got a bargain, as he was expecting to pay over £3,000 page 15($6,000). I had just left school at the time. We put in a track along the bottom of Section 1 with our TD6 bulldozer, which enabled us to sow super phosphate and lime with a blower and to sow grass seed by hand. Three or four years later aerial top-dressing started in New Zealand, and it transformed hill country farming.

We repaired the fence, which went across halfway up the hill, and in time ran 420 wethers on the top block and 700 hoggets on the bottom block. This made us well stocked up, because we were trying to maximise our wool return. Lucerne hay purchased from Waimea Plains was stored in the shearing shed before being packed up the hill by horse, two bales at a time. We erected a fence around the hut and shearing shed to make a one-hectare horse paddock. If the ground was wet, care was needed as the horse would slip on the wet surface and tramp over the man leading it on the way down. We did the dagging in the shearing shed using a portable petrol-driven shearing machine, but the fumes and noise were a problem. The sheep were taken down to the homestead shearing shed for shearing.

One day, when we were erecting the horse paddock fence, Dad said Trevor Johnson, who was working for us, could give me a hand to take a Molcrate block and some salt over to the next gully to put under a hanging rock. About ninety minutes after we came back the ground shook like an earthquake and there was a bit of noise from the direction of the gully. Dad went to investigate and discovered the hanging rock had fallen. That rock, which had sat there for thousands of years, had collapsed only ninety minutes after two people had been under it. Stock had used it for shelter. How close was that!

A few years after we bought Section 1, Dad put our pedigree bull with other cattle to graze off the surplus grass. While he was mustering the hoggets, for some reason the dogs, as they do, started rounding up the bull. The ground was soft at the time and the bull ended up skiing down hill on all fours at great speed, unable to control himself. Luckily he came to no harm, and was taken down to the flats immediately; Section 1 was no place for a big bull.

On one occasion, Ralph Hope was passing Section 1 and saw that two normally healthy cattle beasts had died. Eventually we found four dead and wondered what had killed them. Years earlier, a neighbour had had several cattle shot over at the Waitui Forks area and we were wondering if this was a repeat. Further investigation revealed that the cattle had pushed and broken a wooden gate and got into the shearing shed. They had been able to smell arsenic, which was in a packet of Lyttles sheep dip powder sitting on the shelf. That is why sheep and cattle are often seen licking pressure treated fence posts. They are treated with chemicals, including arsenic, but not in a form to kill them.

page 16
Diagram of Crinoids.Mike Eagle.

Diagram of Crinoids.
Mike Eagle.

In the 1950s, there was an enormous flood in the Section 1 catchment area. A huge gouge was formed in the main gully, 400 metres long, up to 6 metres deep and 4 metres wide. This all happened in a few hours at night, with the road up to Section 1 being completely obliterated in many places. Dry Creek has taken 50 years to settle down.

During the 1960s a geologist, Harold Wellman, who had earlier done geological work on the Cobb Dam foundations, was staying with Nora (née Hailes) and Ralph Hope at 187 Waitui Road. He went for a walk up Dry Creek and found some unusual fossils in some rocks in the creek. He did not know what they were and took them back to the palaeontologists at Victoria University, where he was based. They identified the fossils as Ordovician crinoids, the first of that age discovered in New Zealand. It was a significant find in New Zealand Palaeozoic history.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Victoria University geology student R. (Roger) A. Couper, who was doing fieldwork for his thesis, stayed in our 8×10 hut on Section 1. We had obtained this hut from the Cobb, at the completion of the power scheme. During his fieldwork more Ordovician crinoids and other fossils were found, as well as further fossils in the Hailes Quartzite of Silurian age forming the top of Hailes Knob.

In 1995 Mike Eagle, a palaeontologist from Auckland Museum and University, wrote a paper for the Royal Society of page 17New Zealand, on the Dry Creek Ordovician crinoids, describing five species. These criniods occur solely on Section 1. This research and the preparation of the paper were funded by a $10,000 Lotteries Board grant. The graphitic Arthur Marble near Mike Eagle Bluff contains fragments of some of the biggest Ordovician crinoid fossils in the world.

Most of the ranges of the Takaka Valley have reverted back to bush, or are heading that way. Climate change legislation with no burning will hasten this reversion. The soils associated with the graphitic Arthur Marble are fertile and Section 1 would have produced over 2,000 bales of wool since the bush was felled. Wool buyers often ask me what causes the dark colour in the wool; is it charcoal from bush burn? No, it is the graphite-rich dust from the Arthur Marble. The price of wool has been very low for many years, due mainly to synthetics yarns, which are made from oil. With dwindling oil supplies, will it be wool's day again, and will Eric and Fredericks' vision of growing wool for profit re-emerge?

Since it was originally surveyed, only two families have farmed Section 1: the Sparrows and the Harwoods. Many people have worked on it, prospected it, and six have narrowly escaped with their lives.

Dedicated to the memory of Eric and Lucy and Frederick and Charlotte Sparrow.


1.Nelson Examiner 25 Feb 1857, P2.
2.A draft copy of this letter is written in the back of his father's 1855 Veterinary Day Book.
3.Nelson Evening Mail. November, 15 1869, P2, "Fatal accident at Takaka".
4.Nelson Examiner. July, 10 1858; March 25, 1863.
5.Sparrow Diaries 1878.
6.Sparrow Diary.

Sparrow family details are from the Sparrow Collection, held privately by the Sparrow family of Golden Bay.